ESL assessment

Update: Can-do descriptors of language development

One of the questions I often wrestled with as a starting teacher was how to build a logical and developmentally sound curriculum.  I’ve written a blog about it before, but return to this topic as I have since found new descriptors for language development that I thought would be interesting to share.

One set of new documents that I’ve found is a series of grade-leveled booklets in which various levels of language development are described for speaking, listening, reading and writing.  An example of one such chart is shown here:

wida_can_do_1-2_rwAs you can see, these descriptors are still quite general, allowing the teacher to decide what vocabulary to teach in order to help their learners develop towards the next level.

Here, I’ve included links to the booklets with descriptors that the WIDA  (World-class Instructional Design and Assessment) developed.

booklet_prek-k

 booklet1-2

 booklet3-5

booklet6-8

Besides this, WIDA also provides ready-made Can-do descriptor name charts, so teachers can fill in the names of their own children at the appropriate level, thus creating an overview of language goals to work towards.  I’ve included links to these ready-made name lists here:

Key Use Can Dos Kindergarten

Key Use Can Dos Gr 1

Key Use Can Dos Gr 2-3

Key Use Can Dos Gr 4-5

Key Use Can Dos Gr 6-8

actfl-logo-2011Some teachers may find it a bit daunting, however, to deal with these general descriptors.  Is it possible to connect these descriptors with more concrete language behaviors?  The answer is: yes.  The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has put together just such a list of concrete language behaviors in their booklet “Can-do statements: Performance indicators for language learners” (2015)

In this booklet, one finds checklists of behaviors such as “I can say hello and goodbye,” or “I can ask who, what, when, and where questions.”  This booklet is meant to be a self-assessment checklist, but can just as easily be used by teachers to assess their learners and decide what benchmark their learners have achieved.  Besides this, the language skills are divided up into five categories: conversing (interacting), presenting (speaking), listening, reading, and writing.  These categories correspond with the five categories employed by the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), making it easier for teachers in Europe to use this document in their own work.

Moreover, the ACTFL has collaborated with sixteen language organizations around the world to define “world-readiness standards” for learning languages, and aligned their own benchmark levels with those of the CEFR.  This alignment makes it easier for teachers around the world to use these documents in informing their own teaching.

So now my question remains, what do other teachers use in designing their curricula?  What checklists, language level descriptors, or other standards do you use?  Please let me know!

Important update to this blog entry: I have recently had my Digital Record of Pupil Progress (DRoPP) program updated.  I have re-written it to include the descriptors from the ACTFL booklet, and the levels are divided up into A0 (pre-A1), A1, A2, and B1 levels for the five language skills areas: listening, presenting, conversing, reading, and writing.  I am including the booklet of instruction here so you can look it through.

How-DRoPP-works

If you are interested in a trial use of DRoPP, please contact me here:

 


Links to the ACTFL documents cited:

https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/Can-Do_Statements_2015.pdf

https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/publications/standards/World-ReadinessStandardsforLearningLanguages.pdf

https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/reports/Assigning_CEFR_Ratings_To_ACTFL_Assessments.pdf

 

Advertisements

ESL and the long-term plan

Life-Plan_1

Twice a year, I sit down to write out a semi-annual plan for my teaching.  My table is strewn with all sorts of documents: summaries of the results from the latest round of assessments, lists of children per class, the books I use for each class, and copies of the old semi-annual planning.  A cup of coffee and my laptop complete the picture, and I know I’m in for a long, but productive, sit.

Why would I put myself through this, I’ve wondered.  I could, of course, just follow the book.  Loads of teachers do that, every single day.  Why wouldn’t I just do the same?  And I must admit, it’s a bit tempting to do just that, sometimes.  But then I think about how valuable this plan will be, how it will inform my teaching, and point out the real goals of my teaching in ways no textbook can.

What do I put into each semi-annual planning?  The information is compacted into a table, and usually fits onto one or two pages.  First, I’ll briefly describe what goes into each column, before going into details.

Heading: basic information.  Which class, the period covered by this plan, name of the teacher, subject name, basic topics we’ll be covering, and which book(s) we’ll be using.

Column one: names of the children, listed in order from strongest to weakest.  In general, the strongest 25% of the children become the “talent” group, the middle 50% of the children become the “basic” group, and the weakest 25% of the children become the “intensive” group.  Each group has its own needs that I will need to meet via differentiation.

Column two: language goals for each group.  What listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills do I think the children should learn in the next few months?  I start with the basic group, and tack on a few extra goals for the talent and intensive groups.

Column three: didactic activities.  What activities will we undertake to insure that the children learn the skills listed in column two?  Will these activities be class-wide, small group, paired, or done individually?

Column four: time.  How much time will be available to complete the lessons?

Column five:  pedagogical measures I plan to take to insure that the children are participating – what kinds of feedback will I give and when, what kinds of questions will I ask and how will I stimulate the kind of language use I want the children to learn?

focusWhile I’m filling in this table, I find myself asking and answering hundreds of questions, the process of which informs and focuses my teaching for the months to come.  Another side-effect of this planning is that I find myself energized and inspired with exciting plans for great lessons for children involved in their learning.

One of the first questions I have to answer, of course, is how to group the children.  It’s never, ever, ever, a precise 25 – 50 – 25 split.  I take into consideration where the children were in the last plan: did that “talent” child really do well in that group?  Or did he do better when working with the “basic” group?  Will that “intensive” child do better if placed in the “basic” group?  Or did he really start learning because of the extra time and attention I gave him with the “intensive” group?  This is where the results from the latest assessments come in handy.  How much did each child actually learn during the last few months?  In other words, did that child flourish in the group he was in last time?  If so, and if not, what factors contributed to that?  Will keeping him in the same group help him, or will he need to be placed in a different group?

goalOnce the first column has been filled in, the rest, I find, is quite easy.  I then pull out the tables in which the assessment results for each child are summarized, and draw lines separating each group.  I look to see what skills the entire group is missing, and what might be a realistic next step.  Where can these children go next in their development?  In general, I choose 7 to 8 goals for the basic group, spread over the skills areas.  I add on 2 or 3 for the talent and intensive groups.  I have found that any more goals is simply too many for me to meet in my limited time, while any fewer isn’t ambitious enough.

fb-inspireThe third column, learning activities, is the funnest.  What kinds of activating, co-operative learning structures will we use?  What kinds of pages will we use in our project notebooks?  What kinds of role plays will we practice?  This is the part where I get the most inspiration.

The fourth column is the easiest, of course.  How much time do I actually get to teach each class, and that’s it.  Also, am I teaching the entire class for that time, or is there time for small-group work.

reflection-24The fifth column is where I get to spend time on self-reflection.  What kinds of concrete action should I undertake to insure that each child feels safe enough to try speaking in a language that isn’t his own.  How will I challenge the stronger children to strike out and learn even more English than they already know.  How will I encourage the weaker children to take part, even when they don’t know all of the words or feel uncertain about themselves?  These questions and more poke their heads up while I write.

In the end, I have a document that will guide my teaching for the next few months.  I share this planning with the classroom teacher, so that he or she knows what we will be doing for the next half-year, and keep a copy in my class binder so I can always refer to it whenever I feel the need or plan the next theme.

I wonder what other teachers do, for their planning?

Testing, testing… (continued)

Three children sat at the table, sorting through six laminated cards.  “All right, everybody,” I started.  “Where is frog hopping?”  This is a toughie, since “hopping” in English and “happing” in Dutch sound similar, but the meaning is quite different.  I demonstrate with the frog puppet.  “Look!  Hopping!”  The children catch on, and hold up the picture of frog hopping across the yard.  We continue on, looking at frog eating a fly, frog eating a stick, and frog eating a flower.  “What will happen in the story,” I ask.  The children look at the pictures and start to tell me a story.  I encourage them to use all of the English words they know, resulting in a mix of words one might call “Dinglish,” Dutch and English mixed together.  Then I set up the “walls” – some large books – and pull out my storybook.  It’s time to read aloud so that the children can put the pictures in order.

In this task, I look for language behaviors as they are described in the teacher’s handbook for the ESL program I work with (Note 1).  For instance, can the children understand simple, short sentences?  Can they predict what might happen, by looking at the stories?  Can they put the pictures in the correct order?  And after hearing the story, can they answer questions about the story?

With this task, I assess four separate language behaviors with a group of 2 or 3 children.  Within 10 minutes, I have quite a bit of information already, and we still have time for more fun and games, as I call my tests.

I developed my test after extensive work with the Reynell and Anglia tests.  I noticed that while each test had a number of good points, each also had its weak points which made it unsuitable for my purposes.  Here, I list a few of my considerations regarding each of the tests:

Reynell test, pros:

  1. interesting tasks – the children enjoyed each of the tasks given, the tasks are appropriate for the target age group
  2. norm-referenced – no child can fail, although he can perform above or below the norm for his age

Reynell test, cons:

  1. time-consuming – each test is given individually, so a lot of time is spent introducing each task, and the test can take up to 45 minutes
  2. age limit – the test may only be used for children up to 7 years of age

Anglia test, pros:

  1. efficient use of time – the test is given classically, so the entire class is finished with the listening/reading/writing section within an hour or two
  2. structure – the test is well-structured and easily administered

Anglia test, cons:

  1. criterion-referenced – the test may be passed or failed, but in the case of failing (or superbly passing) it doesn’t give any information about what would have been a more appropriate level for testing
  2. level of testing – all sections tested are tested at the same level, there is no differentiation possible between the levels

I decided I needed a test that combined the good aspects of these two tests, while dealing with the negative aspects.  I ended up with my own system, which I call DRoPP (Digital Record of Pupil Progress).

While testing, I use a paper checklist per child.

While testing, I use a paper checklist per child.

How do I test children?  Step-by-step…

  1. I list the children in order of their ability.  The reason I do this is because I test children in small groups of 2 or 3, and it’s easier to test them if I have similar tasks for all of the children in the group.
  2. I pull out the children’s individual checklists of language behaviors.  The tasks on these checklists are based on the Early Bird curriculum.
  3. I give the group a number of language tasks to complete.  I don’t repeat the stuff they’ve already proven they can do, I only look for new information.  If the children attempt a task and cannot complete it, I put a dot in the space next to that task.  If the child completes it successfully, I put a dash.  I use one color for each assessment period.
  4. After each assessment – 10 to 15 minutes later – I give each child a well-earned compliment.
  5. I input the information from the paper form into each child’s DRoPP file, noting the date of the assessment was.  I often input the information directly into the summary screen, but I may also use a more detailed screen if I like.
The summary screen for a child, indicating name, group, and general development.

The summary screen for a child’s DRoPP file

A detailed list of the language behaviors.

A detailed list of language behaviors

Once the input has been done for all of the children, I run the output program to see just how well the children have done – as individuals, but also as a group.  I use the results to write my group plan for the coming semester.

I will write more about group plans another time…

The program I developed to keep track of pupil progress is now available online, free of charge:  https://sourceforge.net/projects/dropp/


Note 1:  for further reading on the ESL Program I work with:  The Early Bird Curriculum for Primary Schools (www.earlybirdie.nl)